Blogging for Choice: Animal Advocacy & Reproductive Rights

January 22nd, 2009 4:56 pm by Kelly Garbato

null

Today marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – and it’s also the fourth annual Blog for Choice Day!

This is the first year I’m participating in the blog swarm over here; in years past, I reasoned that reproductive rights were far enough removed from animal advocacy that a pro-choice post on an animal rights blog just wouldn’t make sense. The more I learn about intersecting oppressions, the more I realize how wrong, wrong, wrong I was.

There are many reasons why animal advocates should support a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system*: the environmental consequences of overpopulation and increased resource consumption; empowering women activists, who are overrepresented in the animal advocacy movement; a respect for bodily autonomy; and, perhaps most importantly, the similarities between speciesism and misogyny as expressed through the control of animals’ and women’s reproductive systems.

Much as a the reproductive systems of non-human animals are controlled, manipulated and exploited, anti-choicers seek to do the same to women.

First, let’s consider the ways in which humans manipulate animal reproduction in order to make a buck and satisfy a want (as opposed to a need):

Dairy cows are kept perpetually pregnant, so that they continue to produce milk. Typically, they produce up to 100 pounds of milk a day, or ten times as much as they might under natural conditions. The continued pregnancies and lactation is stressful on the cows’ bodies; common maladies include mastitis, ketosis, laminitis and “Milk Fever” (caused by a calcium deficiency). Once their calves are born, the sons are slaughtered to make beef or veal, while the daughters face the same fate as their mothers. Dairy cows usually live only 3 to 4 years before they, too, become beef; their natural life span is 25 years.

Egg-laying hens are packed into tiny cages, debeaked and forced to lay 250+ eggs per year. Since this is more than they would produce in the wild, their bodies are severely taxed; they may develop osteoporosis, fatty liver syndrome and cage layer fatigue. In order to eke a few extra eggs out of their hens, farmers initiate forced molts – they starve the entire flock simultaneously. Once the birds can no longer produce eggs – when they’re “spent” – they’re made into low-grade “meat” or “recycled” into animal feed. As with the dairy industry, male chicks are of no use to egg factories; consequently, farmers literally dispose of them: they’re stuffed into garbage bags to suffocate, thrown live into wood chippers, and otherwise treated like garbage.

Pigs, who are destined to become pork, don’t fare much better. Breeding sows are continually pregnant, birthing up to 20 piglets per year. During pregnancy, sows are confined to gestation crates; for birth, they’re transferred to farrowing crates. Piglets are taken from their mothers at 2 to 3 weeks of age. They are fattened up for “meat,” while heir mothers are forcibly impregnated again and again.

These are only three examples, taken from the modern animal agriculture industry. Add to this list dogs, cats, rats, ducks – basically any species of animal that humans “use” for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, etc. is exploited in a similar manner.

Likewise, just as the megatheocorporatocracy exerts control over non-human animals’ sex organs, so too does it try to control women’s sexuality and reproduction. Exerting control over a woman’s reproductive cycle is just the first step in controlling her as a person.

Women are routinely denied access to birth control (not including abortion), whether through the withholding of knowledge through abstinence-only education (in contrast to comprehensive sex ed); so-called “conscience clauses“; the practical availability of contraception (or lack thereof); and by untruthfully portraying certain forms of contraception as abortion (and thus scaring women into forgoing them).

For those who don’t have access to contraception, the only sure-fire method of preventing pregnancy is to abstain from sex. While this might seem fine and good for teenagers (or rather, teenagers of a certain age), are we really to expect that adult women only engage in sex when it’s for reproductive purposes? Sex is a natural and healthy part of life for most adults; to deny women their sexuality, then, is both abusive and misogynist (i.e., because the onus is placed solely on women to prevent pregnancy by abstaining from sex).

Furthermore, many women don’t even have the luxury of saying no to sex; rape is the obvious example, but “willful” sex through coercion is also an issue, particularly when women don’t have many other options.

As women are the primary caretakers for their offspring, pregnancy – particularly unwanted pregnancy – greatly impacts a woman’s life.

– From an economic perspective, biologically, women have to take leave from work for childbirth and recover. Consequently, women on the whole – and especially mothers – earn less than their male counterparts.

– Once a baby is born, mothers are saddled with a disproportionate amount of the childcare responsibilities. While women who work tend to receive more “domestic” assistance from their partners, women still do a majority of the household and childcare chores.

– Over time, this cycle repeats itself. Women who don’t have access to contraception have larger families – much larger than they might if offered a choice. With each child, her earning potential decreases and her domestic responsibilities increase. (Cue the “barefoot and pregnant” stereotype.)

In effect, pregnancy and motherhood “ties” a woman to her partner, making her and her offspring dependent on him. Pregnancy and motherhood, then, can be a form of control exerted over women by their partners. Similarly, the risk of domestic violence increases during pregnancy.

Reproductive control also operates at a societal level. Whereas certain types of women (primarily middle-class white women) are steered towards pregnancy, whether through restrictions on contraception or exhortations to “have more babies!,” other types of women (working-class women and women of color) may undergo forced sterilization:

Compulsory sterilization programs are government policies which attempt to force people to undergo surgical sterilization. In the first half of the twentieth century, many such programs were instituted in countries around the world, usually as part of eugenics programs intended to prevent the reproduction and multiplication of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.

Forced sterilization has been recognised as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice by the Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. […]

The United States was the first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization programs for the purpose of eugenics. The heads of the program were avid believers in eugenics and frequently argued for their program. They were devastated when it was shut down due to ethical problems. The principal targets of the American program were the mentally retarded and the mentally ill, but also targeted under many state laws were the deaf, the blind, people with epilepsy, and the physically deformed. Native Americans, as well as Afro-American women, were sterilized against their will in many states, often without their knowledge, while they were in a hospital for other reasons (e.g. childbirth). Some sterilizations also took place in prisons and other penal institutions, targeting criminality, but they were in the relative minority. In the end, over 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states under state compulsory sterilization programs in the United States.

(While the Wiki entry implies that forced sterilization no longer exists in the U.S., this isn’t completely true; women with drug addiction problems, or who have been convicted of child abuse, may be coerced into undergoing sterilization or ordered to use contraception.)

Here, the effects of reproductive control are striking: sterilizing “undesirable” women, without their consent or knowledge, the U.S. government literally chose/chooses which women to “breed” (or not), in an attempt to manipulate the gene pool/class structure/racial makeup of the country. Women as cattle, existing not for themselves, but for the men/patriarchies of the world.

Of course, no discussion of reproductive rights would be complete without a mention of abortion. While abortion is a form of birth control, it’s exceptional inasmuch as it also involves a woman’s right to privacy and bodily autonomy. While “the fetus as a person” is a point of much debate, whether you believe that a fetus has a right to life or not, you’re still left with the issue of conflicting rights: the festus’s right to life vs. the woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body.

Here, the woman’s rights must triumph: She is an actual person (she has been born), while the fetus inside her is a potential person (the fetus’s potential to be born has not yet – and may never – be realized). We do not force parents to donate organs to their born children, so why would we force a woman to “lend” her organs to a potential person? Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term, then, would afford special rights to potential persons at the expense of actual persons. In effect, we’d be creating a new hierarchy, with festuses at the top, followed by men, boys and girls – and at the bottom, women.**

Further, not all abortion is “elective” – at times, it’s performed to save the health or life of the mother. Here, the issue of conflicting rights is brought to the fore – should a real, living woman be sacrificed for a potential, unborn person? And if abortion is not “murder” in this situation, why is it “murder” in other cases? What about pregnancies which came about as a result of rape or incest? Is abortion permissible here? Again, if abortion is not “murder” in cases of rape or incest, why is it “murder” in other cases?

Additionally, restricting, prohibiting and even criminalizing abortion does not prevent abortion – it just drives the practice underground, making it more dangerous for women. The single most effective way to prevent abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, through comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception.

And yet, anti-abortion activists, more often than not, don’t support such measures – in fact, they actively campaign against comprehensive sex ed and contraception!

Again, the desire to control women’s reproduction and sexuality – as well as their life courses – is apparent.

Reproductive rights is an issue with which animal advocates should concern themselves. The exploitation of women and non-human animals is intimately linked, and oftentimes these two oppressions mirror one another. The control of female reproductive and sexuality – no matter her species – is just one example of this.

* Technically, this year’s topic is “What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?” I plan on tackling that topic on my other blog, Smite Me!, if you’re interested.

** For more on the compatibility of animal rights and abortion rights, see Question #11 in Gary Francione’s FAQ, “If we want to treat similar interests similarly, does our recognition that animals have a basic right not to be property mean that abortion should also be prohibited?”

*** My apologies for not citing sources; the constant Googling for references made for slow going, so I gave up about a quarter in. Because I’m a longtime reader of feminist lit, I take so much of these feminist arguments as a given – but I’d be happy to look up resources should anyone request them.

———————

Tagged:

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Blogging for Choice: Animal Advocacy & Reproductive Rights”

  1. Smite Me! [.net] » Blog Archive » Blogging for Choice: A bitch’s wish list Says:

    […] easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Blogging for Choice: Animal Advocacy & Reproductive … Says: January 22nd, 2009 at 5:53 pm […]

  2. Blogging for Choice: A bitch’s wish list » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] Over at easyVegan.info, I spent quite a bit of time examining reproductive rights as it relates to animal advocacy, but I fear I only scratched the surface. Volumes can be – have been! – written about the exploitation of women’s and non-human animals’ sexuality separately; methinks we’d need an entire encyclopedia set to fully examine the parallels and intersections between the two together. […]

Leave a Reply